Thursday, November 19, 2009

How AVATAR Will Attract The Female Audience...

Jim here. Got a special treat for you from Joanna Loesch who is another fine MarketSaw reader. She offered some great insight into how females might be thinking about AVATAR and it's characters during a comment she made on another MarketSaw reader's post. So naturally I asked her to write something a little more formal on it as a guest blogger. I think you guys will find it very interesting...

So from time to time I think it is a great idea to have some guest bloggers post their opinions on what is happening in the S3D world. If you think you have a rockin' idea, let Michael or I know and we can weigh it.

So here is Joanna's contribution to AVATAR!

Couple of days ago Jim wrote to me asking if I had anything I would like to contribute to MarketSaw on the topic of Avatar and what women expect from it. When Jim asks you that, you don’t say no. Besides, seeing how much talent and toil went into making this film I’d do anything to help it get the recognition it deserves.

But when the initial excitement was gone I started wondering how the heck do I go about writing about a film I have yet to see, and all I’ve got right now is just a bunch of hunches and fleeting impressions I carried away from the Avatar Day screening and recent trailers/featurettes? And then how do I describe them to you guys? Writing a text for the male audience about feelings and emotions… what’s the point?

Now I can imagine some of you scowl having read this last sentence. And very rightly so! I hate when someone says that girls don’t get sci-fi (apparently it’s too difficult to comprehend for our little pretty heads) and tries to dumb down sci-fi related text aimed at women. So I’m not going to fall into the same trap. I’ll try to give you a full account of what kind of emotions I expect to find in this film, and I’m convinced you will understand me perfectly well. (Oh, and doing it I’m going to lower all my defenses, be painfully honest, and lay my bare soul in front of you, so please don’t take the p*** out of me… too much ;-) )

Jim Cameron is giving us a set of wonderful, multi-faceted characters, who are to a certain extent embodiments of some primal male and female archetypes. The intelligent, fascinating premise signalizes many interesting ways in which these characters may interact and clash with each other creating friction and stirring powerful, heightened emotions. And we girls are suckers for these!

It’s a bit like character cards in a RP game. Each in itself offers you a great description of a given character but they really come alive when they are put side by side and confronted with each other.

Since Avatar Day there have been several moments when I genuinely thought I had figured it all out and knew where the film was going. Only yesterday when I was plotting down what I was going to write in this text, I was sure I knew how Jim Cameron had arranged and interwoven these “cards” into the thread of the plot. And I felt a little sad that Avatar may fail to surprise me in terms of what story will be told (I never doubted it will surprise me in how it’s told). I thought that it would be great if somehow Cameron “shuffled” these cards. Today I watched the second featurette and was thrilled to see that in fact he did! New aspects of some characters cropped out that I have never expected, and now I know that I know nothing. Grand! :-)

Still I think I’ll stick to my original idea and show you how I see those “cards” and what I think may happen if you put them together. And why this makes me excited for Avatar more than for any other film!

JAKE – “a man with a scar”
This is one of the core archetypes of men we girls find strangely attractive. A decent young man who seemingly accepts his place in life, and yet there is this palpable aura around him of deeply buried sense of hurt and injustice. No, he doesn’t complain, he resigns himself to any hardships that are in his way with dignity and feeling of self-worth, but he carries this heavy load of conflicted emotions inside him. We don’t want to pry into his privacy but we do have the urge to make up for the wrong that affected him, whatever it was; to somehow level it all up. Of course, he is too proud to accept our compassion so we will have to do it in secret, but we feel a strong sense of loyalty to him, and will stand by him no matter what.
This is also a scenario that lets us play with the female archetype of the “perfect nurse”. The reason why so often we want to help is not that we think you need it, but because we want to feel needed. When you are all right you either fulfill your role of a hunter and provider, or you chill out with your buddies. You don’t really need us. The only time you pay attention to us then, is when we manage to impress you with something (see Neytiri below). When you’re not well, however, you let us get closer to you, and that’s what we truly want. Togetherness.
These are the feelings I get anytime I see live-action scenes with Jake. Generally he is such a wonderfully layered character, because, in fact there are many “versions of him” – he as himself, his avatar, the different stages he is bound to go through in the course of the film, the “coming of age” element I sense floating somewhere, the issue of his twin brother’s DNA and how it can possibly come into play at some point, the contradictory elements in his character – all of these make him really compelling.

COL. QUARITCH – “taming the beast” / “in cage with a tiger”
We like powerful men. And we love to be slightly scared by them. This is this thrilling realization that he can snap me in half with his two fingers anytime it pleases him, and he will stare at me - indifferent, unflappable - as he does it. It makes me feel so frail and, well… feminine. This is this thrill of riding an unbroken horse or climbing a rock. The feeling that if I don’t do it right I AM going to fall; if I’m not careful around this man or make one wrong move, I’ll have him at my throat. This is also why sometimes we are such pain in the ass around you. We love watching you get all worked up, waiting for you to explode. We love your rough side and want you to show it from time to time ;-)
And this is the same kind of appeal that I think Col. Quaritch shares with the Joker – this powerful, unstoppable force that gives us creeps and yet, for some unexplained reason, fascinates us so much. I couldn’t get the Joker out of my head for quite a long time; many women chose to dress as Harley Quinn for Halloween for the same reason. Quaritch has the same potential. He also is someone who carries this dark secret inside him, something that made him the man he is, and something that we will probably never get to learn or fully understand. “A beast with a scar” - a variation on the above archetype. I don’t know if I’ll feel sorry for him, but I’m definitely going to be fascinated by his character.

JAKE / QUARITCH –“building tension till it snaps” – the art of foreshadowing
Chronic anxiety stirring quietly in the background. Always present. Ever since I saw this “Haven’t you got lost in the woods?” picture of Jake and Quaritch, it has become evident that these two will be pulled gravitationally to each other and will collide eventually. Bad news for Jake, a fly-against-windscreen scenario, he’ll get it real hard. Here he sits in this room like a kid kept after classes, tries to avoid eye contact with Quaritch, tries not to provoke him. But he will get it. It’s not the question if, but just when and how bad. This feeling of anticipation of the inevitable sometimes surfaces rapidly – I look at the HABMOD 2 plan over at and can’t help noticing that there is a detention facility in the basement. The realization sets in, “Poor Jake!” flashes in my mind, and it sends a sudden chill down my guts. Same every time I see this cut on his cheekbone. It quickens my heartbeat, shallows my breath, the muscles of my stomach tense, and I brace myself on his behalf. Negative as it may be, it is still a strong emotion, and as a girl I respond to it. The aspect of the imminent conflict between those two pulls me into the story in a powerful way.

TRUDY - “one of the guys”
Couple of years ago there was a period in my life when I was very much into sailing. I would spend approximately two months a year sailing and repairing boats. The North Sea in October on a boat that was slowly sinking, had an engine that needed to be hot-wired and completely flat batteries. Repairing a yacht 16 - 18 hours a day, in a small marina in Northern Italy, in early spring. New Year’s Eve on the Adriatic Sea in freezing rain. Mostly with all-male crews. It was so much fun!
I was “one of the guys”, had my fair share of toil, night watch, and ridicule and scolding if we screwed something up. But it just felt so right! I really appreciated that the guys treated me as their equal, and even more so that they accepted me as their “mate”. We spent nights talking about things you don’t normally share with women. I miss it. I hope to get some of this feeling back with Trudy. She seems such an unpretentious funny character! I have already warmed up to her. I hope there will be a lot of her interaction with Norm and Jake.

GRACE – “Didn’t I tell you?” – the art of bickering
I love Grace to bits! :-) This is an archetype of a caring, warm woman who needs to be tough and pretend to be a b*tch to keep discipline. So often had to fill in this role myself with my boys from the crew. After a night we were celebrating still being alive, when they were showing the locals that they could drink more alcohol than anyone, I would be nursing them all safely to their bunks and cleaning the mess they left. Of course the next morning I’d be giving them hell and they would obediently pretend that they give a damn. “No pain, no fun.” ;-)
Grace also personifies the maternal instinct. I think no one understands better what Jake must be feeling coming back from the link to his broken body. I don’t think she will show him openly her compassion because he probably doesn’t want it. But I bet she will be protecting him with the ferocity of a tigress.

JAKE’S AVATAR (facet 1) – “the warrior”
We girls are hesitant creatures. We are full of self-doubt. We care too much what others are saying, what they think of us. Most of the time we set our expectation low not to get disappointed. We have difficulty with aiming really high.
That is why we are so impressed with your self-confidence, courage, decisiveness and determination. We envy you this unassailable conviction that you are going to succeed. You look at me with genuine confusion when I voice my fears and doubts towards the outcome. “If it has to be done, it will be done,” you say and I know that however seemingly impossible the task, you are going to will the triumphant outcome.
This is what Neytiri must see in Jake. True, she seems as strong-willed as he is, but still that must impress her. And I can’t help but share her fascination. :-)

NEYTIRI (facet 1) – “You’re incredible!”
“You’re incredible!” you say and that’s the best, most honest complement I am ever going to hear from you. It’s something that escapes your mouth when you are truly, genuinely amazed by something I’ve done, often quite unintentionally. “You’re incredible!” you say that with this surprised tone of disbelief and half-ashamed smile because, against yourself, you have to admit that I actually managed to impress you. You give me this cautious, slightly scared look as if I was a rare, unpredictable, dangerous creature ready to use my witchcraft against you. And I know that here and now you admire to very essence of “me” - not my physicality, clothes, or something I did to attract your attention. You think that “I” am incredible. And you mean it. I love that feeling!
This is, I guess, the way Jake feels about Neytiri when they first meet (and what most of you feel about Neytiri right now). I loved the bit in Avatar Day footage when [spoiler] instead of accepting Jake’s outstretched hand, with one swift blow Neytiri wrestled him down to the ground [spoiler ends]. It was so unexpected and great at the same time! “Good on you girl!” I wanted to shout and I smiled broadly because I knew Jake was thinking “she’s incredible”. Vicariously, I experienced this wonderful moment with Neytiri. I’m so looking forward to more of that!

JAKE’S AVATAR (facet 2) – “crime and punishment”
It must have happened at least once in your childhood that you did to your parents something so utterly unacceptable, so purely evil, something that hurt them so deep that their eyes teared and they simply left the room without a single word. As the full realization draws on you and still nothing happens the tension becomes unbearable. After a while you are so consumed with guilt that you would readily accept anything if it only could put the end to this moral torture. You’d much rather your parents shouted at you and gave you a good flogging than left you floating like that. You are ready to pay any price, endure any kind of physical discomfort because you want them so badly to let you know there are no hard feelings between you anymore.
I sense Jake is going to sin against his adopted Na’vi family. Maybe he will get so confused that he’ll do the same against his human friends. Either way he will have to pay. The concept of redemption is written into all cultures, we all understand it, we are all deeply affected by it. This is the element of the story in Avatar I am mostly looking forward to.

NEYTIRI (facet 2) – “tough love”
Love doesn’t always mean forgiving and forgetting unconditionally. If you have erred and now want to earn your dignity and self-respect back, you can’t follow the easy path. These values given freely are worth nothing. You have to pay for them with your sweat and blood. I will support you in your quest but I’m not going to make it too easy for you. Primarily because I know you wouldn’t want me to. It will pain me but it has to be done this way.
Neytiri is such a sweet and compassionate character, if this scenario really makes its way into the film I know I will be feeling very much for her when she has to be tough with Jake.

JAKE’S AVATAR (facet 3) – “the rite of passage” + NEYTIRI (facet 3) – “you and me vs. the rest of the world”
Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing noble about suffering. It’s ugly, repugnant, disconcerting, and it turns us into cowards – we can’t stand the sight of you suffering and we want to run away and be able to forget all about it… that is in real life we do.
But in films and literature somehow it becomes noble. In all great works of art the protagonist has to face the very thing he fears the most, take the ultimate test of his character – the rite of passage. And this is when we want to be really close. Hardship and suffering strip you of your pretence, when your pupils explode with pain we get a chance to peer inside and see your very soul, your humanity. You endure it humbly, patiently searching for your answers and enlightenment. With hushed awe we accompany you in your journey but it is a solitary experience in its core. Even if we are by your side you have to go through it alone, we can’t really help.
But then, when it is all over, we reach this unprecedented level of mutual understanding. We don’t need words now, we know exactly what each other is thinking. No more pretending, no more attempts to impress. The true mateship of our souls.
This is almost a spiritual experience and it will be amazing to see that expressed by two CGI characters. If Jim Cameron manages to pull it out convincingly he is a true genius!

3D – “intimacy and intensity of shared emotions”
3D - the way Jim Cameron understands it - is going to be big with women! We are empathic, we don’t just look as you do - we sniff around, observe, probe, try read the situation with all our senses. We’ll have a hell of a ride when we get immersed in the picture, especially the static scenes! :-)
The bit which I remember the most vividly from Avatar Day was the intense feeling when I was left with Jake in the link. Just a second-brief scene but I was hit hard by the feeling of intimacy I shared with him. I could feel his excitement so well, but also his fear and apprehension if the experiment would really yield him a healthy man again. Beautiful!

CGI DESTRUCTION – “everything blows up so nicely!”
Recently two women in my intimate circle announced they were interested in seeing 2012. “Why?” I wanted to know. Interestingly, both my mousey art-loving friend and my six-month-pregnant sister-in-law came up with almost identical answer. “You know, “ they said with a shy smile, “I know the plot is stupid, but… it’s just… everything seems to be blowing up so nicely!”
It’s tricky with Avatar. Witnessing violence against the Na’vi will undoubtedly pain us, no way we could enjoy such scenes. But then there is also something wonderfully kinetic about the (final?) battle(s) that can be glimpsed in trailers. We appreciate destruction if it is well orchestrated. I can’t speak for other women but I know that watching the last act of the film I’m going to get the thrill that will match yours.

PANDORA – “the world hidden behind the secret door in my mind”
I just glimpsed Pandora but I’m already in love with it. This is a place I want to explore, and have been carrying with me ever since I briefly visited it. There are a couple of little doors in my head that lead to places I once discovered in films or books, and loved. Pandora has already become one of them.
I also love the colour palette of Avatar, both CG and live-action. I have always felt at home in the blue scenes of other Cameron films, but the way he mixed blues with greens and purples in Avatar really strikes the chord.

THE LINK – “a bitter-sweet ending?”
This is the element of the premise that I try very hard not to think too much about. Don’t want to spoil anything for myself. Because the way link works is really going to be the key to the plot and its resolution. What happens to avatars when they are not driven by humans? Do they have their own consciousness? Do they dream? Do they share memories with their human drivers? Does the DNA used for their engineering influence their “personality”? If Jake and his avatar could operate independently and had shared memories, wouldn’t it be like Jake had his brother resurrected in some way? What happens to avatar if its human driver is killed or wounded while he is in the link? What happens to the human if the avatar body dies? Who is it that Neytiri is in love with – Jake’s mind and soul or just his avatar incarnation? So many questions and I really don’t want to know the answers. Not just yet! ;-)
And no, I don’t want a happy ending. Real life isn’t like that. A bitter-sweet ending is what would give me the best gratification.

Joanna is an English teacher at a teacher's college and one of her offered courses is writing. Thanks for the post! And I agree 100% with wanting to discover the secrets behind the link :-) What do you guys think?

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